by Matthi Forrer
In the course of my stay of eight weeks in total at Heidelberg, I have very much enjoyed getting to know this very famous university better. It was a great pleasure to work with the students who proved to have a good basic understanding of Japanese art and art history, thus providing a sound basis to my elaborating on arts of the Edo Period, notably Japanese prints, or ukiyoe. Although this was undoubtedly their first intensive encounter with this art form, in the end, they all managed to demonstrate a surprising confidence in evaluating prints, their impression and condition, and their design, for their merits.
I was teaching a class of some generally almost twenty students on the Tuesdays (14:00-16:00 hours) for a more general audience, that is also including students of Japanology. In this class, I mostly focused on how to look at prints, judge the quality of printing and design. In the end we came to make up a checklist of aspects to take into account when trying to evaluate the quality of a print. Also an exercise to discuss and compare various treatments of a similar theme or subject worked out quite well, especially with those students who had bothered to work seriously on the weekly tasks given them as a kind of home work.
As for the seminar I taught on the Wednesdays (11:00-13:00 hours), the number of students was around ten, all students of East Asian Art History. My general introductory classes on the background of Japanese prints and their genesis and evolution during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries respectively, were complemented by visits to the Portheim Stiftung in Heidelberg (V/8, 22 and VI/6) and the Linden Museum at Stuttgart (V/29). These excursions, where we could enjoy viewing large selections of original works from real close-by and unprotected by glass frames, were of exceptional value for the students – who are not normally exposed to original works. I am extremely grateful to Professor Melanie Trede for her organizing this possibility, and to Dr. Margarete Pavaloi of the Portheim Stiftung and Dr. Uta Werlich of the Linden Museum for their collaboration. It must be added though that in addition to originals, we were also able to see a number of good facsimiles, dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and being able to view these next to each other and making a comparison of their respective printing techniques was also a great asset.
A number of students is now working on writing a paper of some 5 to six pages which I will assess, and two students even decided to take Japanese prints as a subject for their bachelor theses.
During all of the period, I stayed at the University guesthouse, which was – with the exception of the rather weak lamp on my desk – very convenient. Otherwise, I spent every day at the Institute, enjoying the real good library, and occasionally also taking advantage of the library of the Japanology Department. This also enabled the students to come and see me with questions or discussing their papers – including a student who is working on her MA-thesis on a scroll in the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, where I work.
On June 7th, the Institute organized a workshop on New Research on 19th Century Japanese Print Culture, organized by Dr. Wakita Mio, where, among other distinguished speakers, I presented a paper on the Marketing of Prints in the 1850s and Beyond – a workshop that was very well attended.
Looking back on two months at Heidelberg as the Ishibashi Guest Professor, I can only conclude that I very much appreciated this opportunity and consider it a great honour to have been selected for this position. Above all, I must say that this professorship is of great value to the students, as it enables them to take benefit of outside teachers with both different viewpoints and different specializations from the normal staff, thus much enriching their student days.
Professor Forrer’s class was highly illuminating. I enjoyed the investigations in the museums in particular, since they not only allowed me to access various woodblock prints but also cultivated my sharp eyes to the works. Also, the Professor himself was friendly and helpful. I really appreciated that he would like to spend long time sharing his knowledge with me beyond class.
Tina Chang, MA student in Transcultural Studies
This semester I visited the two classes of Prof. Matthi Forrer. Professor Forrer’s lecture and seminar were quite interesting. He told us a lot about Japanese Woodblock Prints, their history, their cultural heritage, the artists and the themes of the print themselves. The seminar looked at the printmaking from the beginnings in the early 17th century throughout the complete Edo period. We learned a lot about the different themes like actors, landscapes and beauties, as well as the artist themselves.
During the lectures he animated the students to make their own researches, to build their own opinion and trained our eyes even for the smallest details. The most impressive thing was his endless knowledge of the prints and their history.
The combination of lectures at the institute and the museums were really important. While watching the originals we made the most interesting discoveries and Mr. Forrer was always ready for questions and discussions with the students.
I think it's really important for the students to have this exchange with the professors. The Ishibashi visiting professor exchange is the best opportunity for the students to meet excellent scholars from other countries with a more specific field of research. Although we already have some really excellent professors at our institute, it is also necessary to bring other scholars here, so the students can experience a wider range of art historical fields.
I think a learned a lot from the two classes with Professor Forrer, which I couldn't have learned on my own in this short time. The experience he has within this field from livelong studies couldn't be learned only from books. I will continue my own researches within this field in the future.
Iris Hekeler, M.A. in European Art History and Japanese Art History
Professor Matthi Forrer of the Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde, Leiden, was Ishibashi Visiting Professor at the East Asian Art History department of the University of Heidelberg this summer semester, 2013. He gave a weekly lecture, which refreshingly was more like a “how to recognize quality in Japanese woodblock printing” tutorial class and a seminar. In the first, each week the students were assigned tasks to do, not texts to read. “Learning by seeing” has been the core point of Mr Forrer’s classes as such. In this aspect it was most fortunate, to have the opportunities to have a glance at real woodblock prints from various artists in excursions to the Portheim Stiftung, respectively Völkerkunde Museum, Heidelberg, and Linden Museum, Stuttgart, which both have huge collections of prints. Getting this first-hand experience by looking closely at paper, formats, different qualities and even fakes is something that a usual seminar just can’t accomplish. Looking at books and images, even in very good quality, tells you nothing about the haptic, the smell of the paper, the colors can be falsified and so on.
Clearly his lectures and the seminar lessons were in depth and required a certain amount of previous knowledge on Japanese Woodblock Printing as well as Japanese history and there especially the society and artistic circles of the Edo period. Personally I felt, I was able to fill quite a lot of gaps in this area, as, I am sure, were most other attending students.
Mr Forrer was also very much open to generous student counseling, which quite a lot of students made use of. It was nice to listen to sometimes quite personal stories of past times that shaped him as well as professional key experiences he made over all those years. His practical approach of looking at every detail of a print, counting series, editions and single prints and pretty much really work with the prints as objects is different from what many others in the field seem to do. In fact, he is quite special in the way he does things and for me that opened up yet another view on the work with East Asian Art History.
I always enjoyed meeting visiting professors over the course of my studies. They are a special treat of East Asian Art History in Heidelberg.
Katharina Rode, M.A. in Japanese Art History